Effective Climate Communication for Seniors

Seniors having a conversation

Photo by Fred Kloet / Unsplash

Re.Climate recently co-hosted a webinar addressing the challenges of effective climate communication for seniors. We explored the nuances of engaging seniors in climate action, from addressing cost-of-living concerns to highlighting the importance of health, affordability, and energy reliability. We gained valuable insights from recent polls and learned about positive messaging strategies that resonate with seniors. Check out our key takeaways and top recommendations for climate communicators.

Watch the “Effective Climate Messaging for Seniors” webinar.

In this webinar, Re.Climate executive director Amber Bennett and senior advisor Dr. Louise Comeau shared recommendations based on results for 55- to 65-year-olds taken from five recent national polls measuring climate change beliefs, policy support, and behavioral intentions.

Key Takeaways from the Webinar

1. This is a challenging socio-political environment to be engaging and communicating climate change. Like most Canadians, seniors are concerned about cost of living and affordability. Cost-of-living concerns trigger security values at the expense of social values. Security concerns mute support and set limits on support for climate action, particularly regulations with financial implications (carbon price, clean fuels regulation, clean electricity regulation). While 50 percent of seniors, according to a November 2023 Angus Reid poll, say cost of living is their top concern, more (59%) say their top concern is health care. Seniors are also less likely than other Canadians to believe that climate change will affect them personally (36%, compared to 42% of younger Canadians) or their families (44%, compared to 54% of younger Canadians). These top of mind and climate change results suggest that communicating today’s health effects of climate change on seniors’ health (e.g., from heat waves, extreme events like storms and flooding, poor air quality from wildfires, and exposure to new diseases from insects), as well as the healthcare system would make climate change more immediate and could open an engagement pathway.

2. Make climate action consistent with affordability. According to an Abacus 2023 poll, 77% of seniors are concerned climate policy will harm low-income households more than other groups, increasing perceptions that climate policy is unfair. Seniors, particularly in low-income households, are particularly concerned about cost of living and are vulnerable to messaging arguing climate action is unaffordable. These messages need to be countered with factual, easily accessible information and programs geared toward seniors. Climate action does reduce household costs but seniors need support in accessing programs and incentives to take advantage of these potential savings.

3. Energy reliability is a particular concern for seniors. When asked to rank affordability, reliability, and environmental sustainability in terms of importance when considering an energy source, seniors stood out as ranking reliability first, followed closely by affordability. This result is in contrast with other age cohorts who ranked reliability a distance second to affordability. Seniors were also, in an EcoAnalytics 2022 poll, significantly more likely to say they had a 72-hour emergency kit on hand (61% versus 50%). These results suggest seniors are particularly sensitive to energy security and preparedness concerns. Communications highlighting the safety benefits of energy transition and climate mitigation may make climate change may be important.

4. Seniors, like other Canadians, are generally supportive of climate action but show declining support for specific policies.  Negative, and often misinformed messaging on the cost-of-living effects of the carbon tax and other climate pollution is affecting policy support. A November 2023 Angus Reid poll shows that 4 in 10 seniors support the phase out of carbon pricing. A growing number of seniors perceive regulations like a clean electricity standard to be unfair and unacceptable. These trends are concerning and require collaboration among governments, policy advocates, and communicators to counter misinformation and to explain in clear, simple-to-understand language how climate policy is fair and cost-effective to households and society.  

5. Positive, collaborative, cooperative, and responsibility-framed messages are preferred by seniors over more negative, confrontational messaging.  Seniors react most positively to messages calling on governments to collaborate on climate solutions, for the oil and gas sector to be held accountable for the pollution they generate, and that highlight the opportunities associated with the energy transition.  Seniors stand out statistically in favouring narratives like:

  • Control climate pollution: We need to take control of the climate pollution putting our safety at risk. A clean electricity regulation builds on Canada’s success. We already have a relatively low-polluting electricity system. We need to go the last mile because electricity is central to our quality of life and modern living. Good policy gives Canadians access to affordable power from wind, solar, and storage technologies. Good policy reduces energy poverty by giving Canadians more access to energy efficiency programs.

  • Responsibility: Canada cannot meet its climate targets without reducing emissions from its most polluting sector. Canadians and others around the world are already feeling the impacts of climate change. It’s time for Canada to do its part in reducing emissions by placing a limit on emissions from oil and gas.

  • Common goal: Limiting emissions from oil and gas production will encourage provinces and territories to work together towards a common goal.

  • Better future: Reducing emissions is not only good for the planet, but it will also help Canada transition to a stable and prosperous economy with many jobs in the clean energy sector.

5 Recommendations for Engaging Seniors in Climate Action

1. Provide engagement pathways for seniors who are not activists. Highlighting risks and benefits of climate action to seniors’ health and the healthcare system could be important to making climate change risks more relevant to seniors who are not currently thinking about climate change or engaged in climate action or advocacy. There is well-researched material available on the health effects of climate change, including for seniors. We provide a couple of examples in the resource section below. 

2. For activists focused on government regulating polluters: Emphasize industry responsibility, the need for polluter-pay, and fair share. Highlight how regulations emphasizing energy efficiency address affordability concerns but also increase energy security through more stable prices and reliability. Reliability concerns are especially high for seniors. 

3. Highlight the benefits of climate action to nature and future generations. Seniors want to hear about the benefits of climate action to nature and biodiversity. 

4. Frame affordability benefits of climate action concretely to reflect lived experience. Highlight the benefits to reliability and affordability. Don’t overstate efficiency opportunities or ignore program accessibility and navigability concerns: Heat pumps may deliver great improvements but if you can’t get one who cares. We need to help seniors navigate the process. 

5. Get seniors telling stories and talking to friends and family. Seniors, like other Canadians, trust friends and family over institutions. When we talk to each other about our concerns around climate change, our friends and family take the issue more seriously. Engaging seniors as ambassadors for climate action brings other seniors into the conversation.

 Resources

Watch the Recording

The “Effective Climate Messaging for Seniors” webinar was presented on November 29, 2023 and was co-hosted by Re.Climate, Climate Legacy, and the Group of 78. Climate Legacy works to engage more seniors in climate action and the Group of 78 is a civil society organization promoting Canadian and global action for peace and disarmament, and equitable and sustainable development.